Ice skating on the pond – #atozchallenge

Ice skating on the pond. Ninth of twenty-six posts in the April 2017 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Whispering Chimneys: My Altamont childhood” — where my genealogy journey began. Wish me luck!

Children in upstate New York learn to ice skate right after they learn to walk. Whispering Chimneys had a pond that froze over in winter — so my skating lessons began early.

I started out with little double-bladed skates that buckled on  over my boots — tottering around on the ice while my parents yelled, “Slide, slide!”

It took a while to get the hang of it, but eventually I was sliding along with the children of my parents’ friends who visited our farm for multi-family skating parties.

The beauty of skating on the Altamont farm — and pretty much anywhere in upstate New York — was that all you needed was bitterly cold weather and ice skates, and you were good to go.

Preparing the rink

Vintage figure skates. Children in upstate New York learn to ice skate right after they  learn to walk. I learned on the frozen pond at Whispering Chimneys. By: Samantha Marx

Mom and Dad grew up in the Adirondack foothills, so they knew the drill. First up was clearing snow off the pond — usually by pushing a shovel along the surface of the ice.

Once the rough clearing was done, out came the long broom to fine dust and finish the job.

Then, for the comfort of guests, a fallen tree was hauled onto the ice to provide a log seat to rest on. Refreshments were packed up and toted along — avoiding a long walk back to the farmhouse — and the skating rink was ready!

Of course, ice skating had to be done carefully — which my Dad learned the hard way by trying a creative leap over the log. He spent the next two days in bed sitting on a hot water bottle.

Figure skates

However, I kept at it — and soon enough I graduated to single-bladed figure skates. So did my little friend Kris, who was in my dance class.

In the winter, when my parents visited Kris’s mom and dad — friends of theirs from college — Kris and I would repair to the creek across the street from her house for some serious skating.

We’d sit on a rock and lace up our skates. Then we’d scoot back and forth on the frozen creek — practicing our stops and teaching each other maneuvers — until our parents called us in.

Cold air, exercise and gliding, dance-like moves — an invigorating  foundation for a young girl to build on.

Up nextJets overhead promise and portend. Please stop back!

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Hollyhocks and botanical delights – #atozchallenge

H is for Hollyhocks and botanical delights. Eighth of twenty-six posts in the April 2017 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Whispering Chimneys: My Altamont childhood” — where my genealogy journey began. Wish me luck!

Whispering Chimneys, at ten acres, was on the small side for a farm. But it was plenty big enough for me to experience — as a little girl — the hollyhocks and botanical delights that abounded at every turn.

The spectacular nature show started right outside our kitchen door — where my grandmother kept an herb garden.

Peony. Photo: Molly Charboneau

She grew spearmint and peppermint plants there — and I loved to bruise their leaves and inhale the stimulating aroma.  My grandmother fertilized them with used coffee grounds, which I found odd and interesting.

Nearby, next to the chimney, were gorgeous pink peonies with their tender, sweet fragrance. Across the driveway was a large, lush  lilac bush — its purple flowers perfuming the air in spring. Also, a crab apple tree that filled with pale pink blossoms as the weather warmed.

Hollyhocks. Photo: Pamela Kelly

Out behind the house stood rows of tall hollyhocks. Their flowers and stalks bobbed and swayed in the western breeze — and their brown seed pods looked like tiny kettle drums.

Fabulous fruit

There was fabulous fruit on the farm, too. Near a creek that traversed our front yard was a huge old Northern Spy apple tree that dropped its lush fruit the ground each fall. I now make special trips to the farmers market to buy the Northern Spy apples I grew to love as a child.

Out near the barn were the berry bushes. Raspberries grew in chaotic profusion near a stand of pine trees — and I learned how to choose the ripest ones and pick them without pricking my fingers.

Brown-eyed Susans. Photo: Molly Charboneau

Elderberries  — used for pies or to make wine — grew up the back of the barn. My grandmother, who lived with us, was at constant war with the birds to be sure she got enough dark berries for her recipes. My handy grandfather finally erected protective netting to keep the birds away.

And every spring, wild strawberries popped up in the marshy areas in front of the barn — where I’d wade in wearing my golashes and eat as many as I could.

Brown-eyed Susans and Sunflowers

Rounding out the growing season were two sunny yellow flowers I am still fond of.

That’s me with our surprise sunflower (circa 1956). A seed from our chicken feed took root near the barn and this amazing plant grew and grew. Photo: Norman J. Charboneau

Brown-eyed Susans proliferated in the field out behind the barn — the one I had to approach carefully by making a big loop around the scary, water-less well my parents warned me not to go near.

And one year, a sunflower seed from our chicken feed took root near the barn, and a towering plant grew and grew!

My dad photographed me standing in front of this amazing sunflower plant — as tall as a grownup, its brilliant flowers turning slowly to follow the sun.

Up nextIce skating on the pond. Please stop back!

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Gramps: Machinist and woodworker – #atozchallenge

G is for Gramps: Machinist and woodworker. Seventh of twenty-six posts in the April 2017 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Whispering Chimneys: My Altamont childhood” — where my genealogy journey began. Wish me luck!

My maternal grandfather Antonio W. Laurence was a jack of all trades. Known as Tony to his peers,  he was Gramps to me and lived  with us on the farm when I was little.

Gramps was born in Gloversville, N.Y.  He was the son of Italian immigrant Peter Di Lorenzo (who anglicized his name to Laurence) and Mary “Mamie” Curcio, a first-generation Italian American who we called Little Grandma.

When Gramps, 48,  decided to move to Altamont — about an hour away by car — Little Grandma was beside herself.

“She cried and hugged him and carried on like he was never coming back,” Dad told me. Yet my grandparents were ready for a bold, new step.

Gramps and me in Gloversville, N.Y., shortly before we moved to Whispering Chimneys. Scan: Molly Charboneau

Their daughters  (my mom and Aunt Rita) were grown, and they were new grandparents. So off to Altamont they went with my mom, dad and me.

Gramps’s shop in the barn

My mom and grandmother were in charge of the house at Whispering Chimneys — but the barn was Gramps’s domain. And he wasted no time setting up shop there.

Gramps was a skilled machinist who had studied auto mechanics in Detroit. He was also a veteran of my great grandfather Peter’s garage and auto parts business. So it wasn’t long before Gramps had his own business going at the farm.

You name it, he’d make it and sell it. He chopped cabs off of old trucks and turned the beds into horse trailers to sell to local farmers. He made folding wooden log holders for fireplaces. At one point he even covered the side of the barn with hand crafted birdhouses.

Becoming handy

The barn at Whispering Chimneys. Gramps used the barn at the left for his shop, adding windows and filling it with tools and equipment for his home-based business. That’s probably his pickup truck parked outside. Scan by Molly Charboneau

Gramps’s shop was a fabulous place for a young girl to become handy — and once I was old enough, I loved hanging out there.

The atmosphere was so different from inside our house — and fostered my lifelong love of hardware stores.

His long workbench was covered with tools. And when I got my hands dirty I’d race to dip them into the pungent, squishy hand cleaner Gramps kept in a tin — then wash them off with pebbly pumice soap. A far cry from the olive oil soap my grandmother preferred.

Gramps also had a gigantic tool-and-die machine for cutting and shaving metal to size — so there was always a shallow pan of oil filled with curly, silver metal shavings. And one time he cut a small round disk, drilled a hole in it and hammered in my name so I could wear it as a pendant.

Household ingenuity

Gramps also applied his ingenuity to household repairs and improvements to keep the family safe. One of his innovations was a bell cord across the driveway — like the ones in filling stations — so a bell would ring in the house to alert us when a car drove up.

Best of all, Gramps built us children a fabulous swing set from scratch, joining heavy pipes together and cementing the feet into the ground so it couldn’t tip over. You could swing and swing and that set would never budge — giving us a safe birds-eye view of the surrounding countryside.

Up next: Hollyhocks and botanical delights. Please stop back!

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Growing family trees one leaf at a time